What To Expect From the GOP Convention

Commentary by Pete du Pont

Much of the talk leading into this summer's party conventions has been on the lack of news value in them. "It's just going to be one big infomercial," groans more than one media elite. "Both conventions will be planned and scripted down to the last second," complains another as they justify their plans for sparse coverage.

But does that really matter? Do we really want a repeat of the ruckus from the Democrats 1968 convention in Chicago to add to the "news value?" Do we really need a party faction revolt to make it worth watching? I don't think so.

While this year's conventions will be short on suspense, especially now that Bush has tapped Dick Cheney to be his running mate, they are important in that they give each party the chance to paint a broad picture of how they see themselves, how they see America, and where they want to take it. There is nothing more important in politics.

First to take the stage will be the Republicans in Philadelphia. If this convention was one big advertisement, the unstated slogan would be "It's not your father's GOP anymore." The actual theme of the convention of course is "Renewing America's Purpose. Together." But with each night and each speech, the GOP and the Bush campaign in particular will be hitting home the message: George W. Bush is different, and so is the party.

Gone will be the long keynote address, as well as the Washington-based leaders who typically give them. Gone will be the one night set aside for partisan red meat. And gone even will be the empirical dais, which have become a hallmark of all modern conventions. In their place will be real people talking about how the issues affect them, and the message that after eight years of a polarized Washington, the GOP wants unity and bipartisanship.

Cheney's selection, while not a new face by any means, reinforces the message of unity and bipartisanship, as he has a reputation for working well with both parties.

Don't get me wrong, the GOP will still be preaching limited government, local control, and empowering individuals to help themselves, but they will be cast in an entirely different light. And, they will be discussed by people the Democrats and many in the media suggest don't exist in the Republican Party.

For example, Paul Clinton Harris will talk about education. Harris is the African-American Republican from Virginia who is the current steward of Thomas Jefferson's former seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Elaine Chao, who immigrated to the U.S. when she was eight years old, without knowing how to speak a word of English, and went on to a career that saw her leading the United Way of America and the Peace Corps will also be there talking about immigration and the American dream. Breast-cancer survivor and crusader Nancy Goodman Brinker will also deliver her personal message of survival and civic duty.

The three are only a part of the expect litany of personal stories of over-coming obstacles and citizen action. Ordinary Americans who are members of what Gov. Bush has described as the "armies of compassion" working in every community.

Philadelphia is not expected to completely depart from past conventions, however. There still will be speeches trumpeting Bush's policy proposals, such as his plans for reforming education with accountability and freedom, saving Social Security through personal investment, and expanding personal freedom through lower taxes, increased access to health insurance and increased homeownership.

Some reporters covering the convention might attempt to suggest that the fact that Republicans are talking about education, health care and Social Security is new in and of itself. It's not. In fact, some in the GOP have been talking for some time about many of these reform ideas, such as investment-based Social Security. (In fact, I proposed investment-based Social Security reform in my run for the GOP nomination against Bush's father in '88.) So while not all of the proposals are completely new, they do offer a different direction from the failing status quo.

All in all, this will be a convention that says; this is a new century with new problems, and the GOP is a renewed party with a renewed purpose. Whether they will be able to successfully cement that idea or not, it'll be fun to watch. Either way, the fact that the Republican's are making this effort, is in itself newsworthy. And it is important.



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